ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The 2013 football regular season comes to an end Saturday in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC), and what a season it's been.
Heading into the final weekend of play, four different teams have been ranked in the Top 25, with as many as five receiving votes in the national polls. The conference has a collective nonconference record of 16-1 against out-of-league foes, which is the best among all NCAA conferences, regardless of divisions. School records have fallen, games were decided on the final play, and fields were stormed more than once in celebration of dramatic victories and stunning upsets.
Though the championship has been decided - No. 6-ranked Bethel (9-0, 8-0 MIAC) clinched the crown with Saturday's win and Concordia's loss - the final week of 2013 MIAC football still features plenty of drama an intrigue. The Royals will try to complete a perfect 10-0 overall, 9-0 MIAC regular season Saturday with a trip to Collegeville, Minn., and a game against (RV) Saint John's (7-2, 5-2 MIAC). The game means just as much as the Johnnies, as they try to boost their profile for at-large consideration in the NCAA Division III Football Playoffs.
Bethel's balance has carried it to its first league title since 2007. QB Erik Peterson and WR Mitch Hallstrom lead an exciting aerial attack, while RBBrandon Marquardt and a stout offensive line anchor an always-tough Royals' ground game. Meanwhile, LB Seth Mathis is the face of another dominant Bethel defense that allows just 15.4 points and 310.4 yards per game.
However, Saint John's has been one of the surprise stories of the 2013 season. After a 5-5 (3-5 MIAC) season in 2012 and the first coaching change in 60 yards, new Head Coach Gary Fashing has the Johnnies in a three-way tie for second heading into the final game of the regular season. SJU has already upset one top-10 opponent as it defeated No. 2 St. Thomas on Sept. 21, and another would secure a second-place finish in the MIAC and seriously help the team's chances of joining the Royals in the D-III tourney. Receiver Josh Bungum and RB Sam Sura have been SJU's top offensive weapons this season.
No. 16 St. Thomas (7-2, 5-2 MIAC) and No. 24 Concordia (7-2, 5-2 MIAC) are the other two teams that enter the final week of the regular season tied with the Johnnies for second place, and both will try to add a final resume-building win as they jockey for at-large consideration as well. The Tommies travel to St. Olaf (1-8, 0-7 MIAC) a week after a huge win over the Cobbers, and RB Jack Kaiser and LB Harry Pitera will look to lead St. Thomas against Ole QB Nate Penz and his talented receiving targets.
Concordia hosts resurgent Gustavus (6-3, 4-3 MIAC) in one of Saturday's best matchups. The Cobbers are lead by efficient dual-threat QB Griffin Neal, while the Concordia defense will try to slow Gustie star RB Jeffrey Dubose, who has school records in rushing yards and touchdowns this season.
Augsburg (5-4, 3-4 MIAC) travels to Carleton (4-5, 2-5 MIAC) as the Auggies try to finish .500 in the MIAC, while a Carleton win would get the Knights to .500 overall in 2013. Augsburgs' offense appeared to be at its high-powered best last week in a win over Macalester with QB Ayrton Scott, RB Phil Putratzand WR Joey Sonnenfeld all putting up big numbers. To win, the Auggies will be faced with stopping Carleton's also-imposing air attack with QB Conor Lynch throwing to star wideouts Anthony Kemper and Chase Gottschalk.
Saturday also features a St. Paul nonconference rivalry game as Hamline (2-7, 1-7 MIAC) tries to boost the league's out-of-conference record with a trip across town to face Macalester (3-6) in the "Paint Bucket" rivalry game. MIAC-leading rusher Austin Duncan, who broke the Pipers single-season record a week ago, will look to bolster his numbers and lead his team to its third win of the season. A Hamline win would help the MIAC improve upon its already-stellar 16-1 collective record in nonconference play.
This weekend offers MIAC football teams to make their final statements about the 2013 season, and offers fans the final chance to catch most of the conference's teams in action this year. If the rest of the season is any indication, it should be an appropriate, thrilling finale.
For Bethel and the other teams in the NCAA Playoff hunt, they'll learn their fate the following day, as the NCAA Division III Football Playoffs selection show will air on NCAA.com Sunday at 5 p.m. and the postseason tournament will begin Saturday, Nov. 23.
The MIAC thanks Supreme Images Photography for contributing graphics for the MIAC Football Preview throughout the season.
Sat. Nov. 16
COBBERS AND GUSTIES SHARE MIAC PLAY-OF-THE-WEEK
Four highlights from last Saturday's MIAC action competed for
the latest MIAC Play-of-the-Week title. There was
outstanding fan participation in the Week 10 Play-of-the-Week
battle with 821 votes cast and 1,195 total views on YouTube. Each
clip received at least 276 votes, with three of the four all
receiving more than 300 views.
For the first time in MIAC Play-of-the-Week history there is a tie, as Concordia and Gustavus both received 43 percent of the vote when the polls closed at noon. Cobber QB Griffin Neal earned his share of the weekly highlight honor for his 30-yard run to the end zone Saturday, and Gustavus RB Jeffrey Dubose was also honored for his impressive 17-yard scoring run in the Gusties' win. Fittingly, these two teams can break the tie on the field as they go head-to-head in Saturday's regular season finale.
MIAC IN THE POLLS
There was quite a shakeup in the NCAA Division III West Regional rankings this week following St. Thomas' win over Concordia, and now four MIAC teams are included in the top 10. Bethel still sits at No. 2, while the Tommies join the rankings at No. 7. Concordia is No. 9 and Saint John's is ranked 10th.
The Royals slid up another spot in the AVCA Division III Coaches' Poll to No. 6 in the nation, while St. Thomas rose five spots to No. 16. Concordia slid from No. 17 to No. 24, and Saint John's is essentially 27th as the second team in the "Others receiving votes" section.
The Royals actually dropped a spot in the D3football.com Top 25 despite their big win and are now No. 6 in both polls. St. Thomas jumped two spots and is No. 16 in both as well, while Concordia is the first team in the "Others receiving votes" section with Saint John's another two spots back.
MIAC IN THE PRESS
Here's a look at the top MIAC football stories in the media over the past week.
11/12/2013 Playoff hopes still alive after Concordia
win - CBS Minnesota
11/10/2013 Dubose sets records for GAC - Mankato Free Press
11/9/2013 St. Thomas rallies, takes down Concordia - Fargo Forum
11/9/2013 MIAC roundup: Tommies comeback forges tie for second - Star Tribune
11/8/2013 J.D. Mehlhorn brings a 'boatload of gifts' to Bethel football and life - MinnPost
11/8/2013 Defensive end Nate Adams now leading the MIAC in sacks for the Cobbers - Fargo Forum
11/8/2013 St. Thomas, Concordia its own playoff game - CBS Minnesota
11/7/2013 Area small college football update - Star Tribune
All three MIAC Football Athletes-of-the-Week played
in Saturday's Gustavus-Carleton showdown, won 34-19 by the Gusties.
Gustavus running backJeffrey Dubose was named
the MIAC Football Offensive
Player-of-the-Week for the second time this season after
setting three team records in the win. His 264 rushing yards, 1,261
season rushing yards and 21 season rushing touchdowns are now all
Gustie records. Teammate Thomas
Schleusnerreceived MIAC Football Special Teams
Player-of-the-Week honors for the second week in a row
after going 2-for-2 on FGs and 4-for-4 on PATs with a 45.5 average
on four punts. MIAC Footall Defensive
Player-of-the-Week honors went to
Carleton's Mitch Heflin, who made 13 tackles
and 3.0 tackles-for-a-loss Saturday to lead the Knight defense.
IN THE TRENCHES
The Gustavus offensive line had a lot to do with a
record-setting day in St. Peter. The Gusties up front paved the way
for 285 yards on the ground and a 6.8 yards per carry average,
including a school-record 264 yards by RB Jeffrey
Dubose. The Gusties got four scores on the ground, and the
line didn't allow a single sack on 25 dropbacks in the win. In
addition, the line helped Dubose set Gustavus records for rushing
yards (1,261) and touchdowns (21) in a single season. The Gustie
starters along the offensive line were center David
Gschneider, guards Lyle
Opdahl and Trevor
Winkelman and tacklesWyatt
Adams and Marcus Kelly.
Bethel's defensive front had a big hand in Saturday's conference-championship clinching win over St. Olaf. The Royals allowed just 86 rushing yards in the win, and an average of just 2.4 yards per carry while contributing to a shutout. Bethel racked up two sacks, seven tackles-for-a-loss and forced St. Olaf into three interceptions. The Royal starters along the defensive line were nose guard Will Van Duzer and defensive ends Kyle Asmus and Luke Buttenhoff.
BY THE NUMBERS
3 - School records broken by Gustavus RB Jeffrey Dubose Saturday. Dubose set a single-game record for rushing yards with 264 and his 1,261 yards and 21 rushing touchdowns are both new Gustie single-season records.
1,302 - Speaking of rushing records, Austin Duncan broke Hamilne's single-season rushing record Saturday as well and now has 1,302 yards this season to lead the MIAC. Duncan also set the single-game record earlier this season with 298 yards against Carleton on Sept. 21.
5 - Bethel claimed its fifth MIAC championship Saturday - and first since 2007 - Saturday thanks to its win over St. Olaf and a Concordia loss. The Royals try to wrap up an undefeated regular season Saturday at Saint John's.
134 & 3 - Jack Kaiser ran for 134 yards and three scores to lead St. Thomas to its win over Concordia in a battle of nationally-ranked teams.
585 - Total yards of offense racked up Augsburg in Saturday's 34-16 win over Macalester. Ayrton Scott threw for 313 yards with 162 going to WR Joey Sonnenfeld and Phil Putratz ran for 141 in the win.
16-1 - Thanks to the Auggies' win over the Scots, the MIAC improved to a collective 16-1 over nonconference foes. The MIAC can make it 17-1 for the season if Hamline can defeat Macalester in the league's final nonconference game of the season Saturday.